Poots - sharing knowledge and solutions are vital to address issues facing UK agri-food industry

Date published: 23 March 2022

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots MLA, has hosted the second meeting of the UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP), at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is pictured with Environment Secretary, George Eustice at the second meeting of the UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP), at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus.

The main focus of the meeting was soil health and it was attended by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice and DEFRA Ministers Rebecca Pow and Jo Churchill, alongside virtual attendees from across the UK.

Attendees at todays’ meeting heard from a range of experts, including researchers, government officials, farming organisations and NGOs from across the UK; on the challenges and issues faced with regards to soil health in agriculture. Other issues such as the ongoing Ukraine crisis, food supply lines and climate change were also discussed during the meeting.

Speaking after the meeting, Minister Poots said: “I would like to welcome Ministers Eustice, Pow and Churchill to Northern Ireland and I am delighted to be able to host them at CAFRE for this latest meeting of the UK Agriculture Partnership. UKAP provides us with an excellent opportunity to share our knowledge and world-leading research so that we can develop sustainable approaches to agriculture, reduce carbon emissions, and further increase farm productivity.” 

The Minister continued: “I am particularly pleased that soil health is being discussed today as soils are fundamental to our understanding of environmental interactions between air, land and water. Soil health is a fundamental element of sustainable farming practice and healthy soils are critical for life, providing us with many essential services. Soil can also increase our resilience to climate change, by storing carbon, locking in greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.”

Continuing, Minister Poots said: “Carbon benchmarking is a relatively new technology on Northern Ireland farms and it is a complex process, but it is something we will all need to embrace.  An important baseline element to this will be the new Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, which I launched on Wednesday. I aim to roll out this scheme across Northern Ireland over the next four years so that a robust baseline is established to provide data for pH, major nutrients and an estimation carbon stored in soils, trees and hedgerows.”

During the meeting, the Ministers also discussed the impact of the ongoing Ukraine crisis on the agri-food sector across the UK. Minister Poots said: “Given the crucial roles that both Russia and Ukraine play in global agri-food markets, I have grave concerns the longer the conflict continues, the more likely we are to see a real and damaging impact on our local industries. The recent issues with P&O Ferries will also cause problems importing and exporting food. Our agriculture sector has shared issues across the United Kingdom so I hope that this forum continues to provide a platform for collaboration and information sharing from all parts of the United Kingdom in the future.”

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “It is great to be at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise today. As the first UK land-based college to get LEAF accreditation, it is the perfect venue to discuss how all parts of the UK can work together to address the shared challenges our agri-food industries are facing.

“The appalling situation in Ukraine has put a spotlight on food security and exacerbated already high global gas prices. Farmers across the UK are facing increased fertiliser costs. The solution will require us all both to pioneer new technologies to manufacture more organic based fertiliser products, and to rediscover more established techniques such as using nitrogen fixing legumes and clovers as an alternative to fertiliser.  A healthy crop requires healthy soils – and that is the focus of our meeting today.”

Notes to editors: 

1. Photo caption: Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots is pictured with Environment Secretary, George Eustice at the second meeting of the UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP), at CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus.

2. UKAP brings together stakeholders from across the UK to identify and improve collaborative working on shared issues facing the agricultural sector. 

3. The objectives of UKAP meetings are to provide a space to: 

  • address a particular challenge, or idea, facing the agriculture sector, in detail – particularly issues which have resonance across the UK
  • hear from researchers first-hand about the issue – what the science says about what the challenges, impact and possible solutions are:
  • Share findings from across the UK – hearing directly from a range of farmers, land managers, stakeholders and industry.  
  • Build new connections and greater flow of information across the UK, as well as shining the light on the most pressing issues we face 4.

4. The partnership will be formed of a group of leading stakeholders in the UK agriculture sector. Ministers from the Devolved Administrations and from UK Territorial Offices – as well as relevant officials - will also be invited to participate in the event and hear directly from attendees on the range of technical issues. Given that meetings will be topical, a bespoke invite list will be created for each event to include stakeholders with relevant expertise and interest in that particular topic. These stakeholders may have a very specific research interest so will not attend all meetings of UKAP.

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6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk

7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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